Small Towns for Starters

Every Thursday at SFH is Entrepreneurial Appreciation Day. We celebrate those who have the guts to start something new and interesting. This week we will be discussing why Small Towns are a great place for an amateur entrepreneur to test out his skills and create that first income revenue stream.


Luxuries of Starting your Business in a Small Town

  1. People are desperate — Small Town people have less access and often times have less connection to social institutions. Church institutions are crumbling all around, and for a very long time this was the primary cultural institution. Churches create and “market” a certain way of behaving. Your business needs to do the same. The best churches paradoxically transcend local culture while embodying it. Your business needs to do the same. Certain aspects of how you operate must specifically connect with your local people (so as to distinguish yourself from Wal Mart), but other aspects must connect to bigger global ideas (so as to distinguish yourself from the dying local hardware store).
  2. People talk — Most businesses today benefit primarily from word-of-mouth marketing. This is why social media has destroyed the advertising industry — entrepreneurs no longer have to filter their brand’s story through the paywalls of newspaper or billboard advertising. Small towns are the most gossipy places on the earth, and as long as you keep doing something interesting without ever apologizing for living your dream — people will talk about you. In a good way.
  3. Build your Tribe — You get to be the king in a small town, if you choose to build an empire that nobody else has built yet. Small town markets are way less saturated than metropolitan areas. This means that you can be the center of not just a business, but an entire culture. All of your marketing material — social media or whatever — is simply you sharing your journey as a cultural leader. This will drive people into your business to join your tribe. The desperation of people (noted above) will drive them to cling to a movement. You need to offer them some way in which they can use your business to identify themselves — you want to intertwine your customers’ identity(s) with your business.

Challenges of Starting your Biz in a Small Town

  1. Brain Drain — By far the most frustrating thing about starting a business in a small town is that none of the teenagers think their town is cool, so they are all planning to escape asap. The escape narrative is built on lies. The way to overcome this challenge is to seek ways of building trust with the teenagers, and then showing them that life in your town is actually nuanced and romantic and even exotic, if you give them eyes to see. Small towns are weirder and more idiosyncratic than any other place on earth. Many times the consumeristic homogenization hasn’t sunk its claws in quite as deep — not every small town is a truck stop. There is history beyond the big box store that has been propped up. This can’t be said about many of the suburbs that surround metropolitan areas — which is where the rural kids will end up if they move to a big city, after a few years in a dorm room or art district. Small towns offer young adults the opportunity to be both wild and domesticated. It takes an inordinate amount of bravery, however, to cut against the small town cultural grain and be different. It takes guts to get stoned and ride your bike around a town filled with diesel douchers who would rather share a road with an occupying army than bicyclists.
  2. Small Town Machismo — It’s not just rednecks who are annoying in small towns. The “jocks” have taken a monopoly over certain parts of the culture in many small towns. Usually sporting tons of Under Armour apparel and droning on endlessly about ESPN-approved professional sports, whether you care or not, these dudes are way past their prime. The opportunity here is that culture has moved on, and even small town kids have access to the internet — which means they can see the hypocrisy and bullshit of most pro sports. These jocks, I have noticed, often slither into the roles of bankers and lawyers and insurance agents — whatever the last generation considered “intellectual work”. Sometimes they own businesses, usually the Chamber of Commerce is where they love to hang out. In my town, the schools do a bunch of fundraising for the absurd
  3. You MUST build your own tribe — This is posted above under the luxuries, but it is also requires the most skill and sweat to get this part right. Small towns don’t have the built-in markets that bigger cities often have. If you start a skate shop in a big city, chances are there is a decent group of skaters that will patronize that shop (even with competitive e-commerce, things like sporting goods people often prefer to see before they buy). When you start a skate shop in a small town, you must do the hard work of recruiting your customers and, literally, building a movement from scratch.

REMEMBER: If you don’t know what kind of business to start, begin regularly hanging out with a group of people and simply keep your mind open. The brain does its best work when it is relaxed and in a community of trust. You will find your opportunity and your angle, but you must create relational collisions. You must be open. You must share. You must explore.

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